News & Politics

What It’s Like to Be Rated on Your Looks

18 seniors at Bethesda-Chevy Chase were ranked on their appearance by one of their male classmates.

From left: Yasmin Behbehani, Lee Schwartz, Annabelle Kim, Jane Corcoran, Virginia Brown, Sage Spalter. Photographs by Lexey Swall.

It started as a rumor, spread through whispers and screen shots. But soon everyone at Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School knew it was true: A male student had created and circulated a document he called The List, a ranking of the physical appearances of 18 female seniors in the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, from 5.5 to 9.4. By lunchtime on a Tuesday last March, a group of young women had walked into the administration’s office and kick-started a months-long process of reckoning and healing. They wrote op-eds in the school newspaper. They made a pop-up museum about toxic masculinity. They confronted their male classmates in a painful hours-long town hall. Who are the young women who clapped back? We talked to six and then made a few lists of our own.

Yasmin Behbehani

-Cofounded the youth arm of a local organization that assists refugees, helping it raise more than $150,000 for education.
-Formed and ran her school’s body-image-and-eating disorder-awareness club.
-Helped with disaster relief in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
New school: University of Maryland.

“These were people that I had gone to classes with, I had talked to in the hallways, I was even friends with some of them. It felt like our friendship wasn’t built on anything substantial. In all the interactions that we had, they just saw me as a number.”

Lee Schwartz

-4.72 GPA (weighted).
-One of six top editors at B-CC’s newspaper.
-Teen adviser and local leader in a UN women’s-education effort called Girl Up, for which she’s interviewed the likes of Ivanka Trump and former president of Malawi Joyce Banda.
New school: University of Pennsylvania.

“I think a lot of the girls like me were bloodthirsty at first, like ‘These boys need to be punished.’ But that quickly disappeared. It became more about making it a learning experience—I know these boys are gonna be leaders some day, they’re gonna be bosses and CEOs and politicians [who might] make decisions about women and their bodies. I want them to go into the world with the right mindset about women.”

Annabelle Kim

-Founded and led the school’s philanthropic club to help homeless shelters.
-Summer lab researcher in cell biology at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
-Started a book club for fifth-grade girls at a DC public school.
New school: Georgetown.

“I didn’t want to be upset about it. I wanted to be like, okay, whatever—this doesn’t define who I am. But I felt really embarrassed to be on the list. The part that made it so bad: Mine had .4 at the end. That was so specific. Like, what about me made it not .5?”

Jane Corcoran

-Ran B-CC’s Special Olympics Club and played basketball with young people with special needs on Saturdays for four years.
-Led the National Science Honors Society, was an IB biology teacher’s assistant, and tutored her peers in chemistry.
-Camp counselor.
New school: Colgate

“As if I don’t compare myself everyday—I have an identical twin! I had to cut off one of my close friends [whom] I’ve known since kindergarten because I was so frustrated—I was in tears, fully, and he still didn’t get it.”

Virginia Brown

-Two-time captain of B-CC’s varsity cross-country team; holds the record for the school’s fastest freshman 5K.
-Vice president of the Student Government Association.
-Canvassed and phone-banked for Maryland state delegate Emily Shetty’s last campaign.
New school: Emory

“I questioned if I had been doing something promiscuous—if the way I was dressing, the way I was acting around the boys in this program caused them to rank me the way they did. I didn’t really blame them as much as I blamed myself. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I was just going to school, living my life, and it was a violation of my privacy and my right to be here.”

Sage Spalter

-Statewide political director on the four-person board of Maryland High School Democrats.
-Volunteered on the floor at the 2016 Democratic convention.
-Founded Get Ready to Vote, a project that helped 16- and 17-year-olds in Maryland preregister.
New school: Tufts.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been rated and it probably won’t be the last.”

This story is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Washington.” For more:

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This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.